Classically adult

Yesterday morning a friend sent me a list of names she had put together as a sample for work, with the note, "Am I pushing this too far?" I looked for dirty anagrams for 10 minutes before I wrote back, "...No?" Apparently they were all literary characters I had neeeeever heard of.

Enter Cathleen Schine, who wrote a really baller essay on cultural illiteracy and reading classics as an adult. She writes:
I got to read “Huckleberry Finn” for the first time when I was 35 years old. And when I eventually moved on to a different partner, there waiting for me was a new bookcase full of other books. I read “My Antonia” for the first time last month. That is a kind of grace.
I feel this on such a personal level it is almost unreal. I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time two years ago (and you know what? Should have read it when I was 12. Not so good the first time around as an adult). I got through my first Faulkner (eh), and read (and enjoyed, for the first time ever!) To Kill a Mockingbird.

Some days, you have to enjoy being functionaly illiterate.


  1. The number of classics I still haven't read is legion, even though I've gotten through more than most if those Facebook "list the books you've read" memes are anything to go by. I'm particularly impoverished in American lit as I grew up in England and we've got quite enough classic literature of our own, thank you very much.

    I recommend re-reading classic books anyway, even if you had to do them at school. I'm constantly amazed by how much more I find in literature now that I'm 50 and have LIVED.

    (A sneaky way to start is to research the website of the English department of any prestigious university. They often have reading lists available for download. And classic literature is about the lowest-cost reading in existence; no waiting lists at the library or you can download it onto your Kindle (or free Kindle iPhone app, I do this and it's GREAT) for $0.)

  2. I was starting to feel like I was the only person who hasn't read a lot of the classics. Phew. I'm in good company so I feel better.

  3. One of my favorite features of the new e-book world is the free copies of the classics. Jane Austin, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, F Scott Fitzgerald, Confucius, O. Henry, Aristotle, etc. now wait just a click away from me reading them. Of course I may never find the time to read them, but the books being just a click away makes me feel smarter all ready.

  4. Eep--I finished my first 'classic' ever on the weekend--Dracula. I'm 25. *embarrassment*

    We didn't read much classic literature at school (in Australia). The amount of catching up I now have to do is giving me a headache. But, it's like, a HAPPY headache. Yep.

  5. Alicia--I don't know about good company, but you're in some company. Welcome to the club! I'm getting hats made. Or merit badges. Huzzah!

  6. Laura - Hats would definitely draw attention to our illiteracy. I feel like we should have a website to go with it.